UN Aviation agency not eyeing 'no-fly' zone around North Korea - sources

MONTREAL (Reuters) - The United Nations aviation agency is not considering the creation of a "no-fly" zone around North Korea because the direction of Pyongyang's tests are not predictable, two sources familiar with the organisation's thinking said on Thursday.

The news comes after International Air Transport Association (IATA) director general Alexandre de Juniac was quoted in the South China Morning Post on Thursday saying that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) "could declare a no-fly zone" in the region.

Montreal-based ICAO cannot impose rules, such as ordering countries to close their domestic airspace, but regulators from its 191-member states almost always adopt and enforce the standards it sets for international aviation.

ICAO has condemned North Korea for launching missiles without notice, a move that could represent a threat to commercial flights.

Airlines are already largely avoiding airspace controlled by North Korea in the Pyongyang flight information region, one of the sources said.

An IATA spokeswoman said by email on Thursday that de Juniac's remarks were in reference to the airline trade group's support of a recent decision by ICAO to "strongly condemn North Korea's continued launching of ballistic missiles over and near international air routes."

While ICAO has urged airlines to take precautions, the agency is not advocating for a no-fly zone, because such a move would be disruptive for carriers and it's not clear where North Korea will fire missiles during tests.

"It is so random, it (a no fly zone) becomes ineffective," one of the sources said.

Both sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk with media. An ICAO spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Tensions in the region have risen markedly in recent months after repeated North Korean missile tests in defiance of U.N. sanctions and the detonation of what Pyongyang said was a hydrogen bomb on Sept. 3.

On Thursday, two American B-1B heavy bombers joined large-scale combat drills over South Korea.

The missile tests are worrisome for civil aviation authorities in the wake of the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine. So far, North Korea has not heeded requests by ICAO to give advance notice of any launches, one of the sources said.

An ICAO conflict zone site, launched as a warning system for airlines to be aware of threats to civil aviation in the wake of MH17, is no longer active.

(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal)